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image collage of lobsters
title image with text catching lobsters
faded background image of a lobster
left arrow An American lobster
standing guard
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lobsterboat underway
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Erik Waterman's Sea Ryder departs Spruce Head in Penobscot Bay to haul lobster traps. Lobstering thrives in the Gulf of Maine due in large part to favorable lobster habitat. Rocky coasts and cobbly bottoms allow young lobsters to hide from their prey. Interestingly, the Gulf of Maine has seen a huge increase in lobster populations in the 1990's. This population pressure is causing young lobsters to move from secure cobble to the Gulf's abundant sandy bottoms. Lobstermen are following.
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Penobscot Bay map
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Penobscot Bay in 3D
Click on the map above to explore the journey area.
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Related information: 
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All About Lobsters
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The Lobster Conservancy
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Click here to see a movie
of lobsters in action

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Downeast, lobster hauls are up big.
Read more
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How are lobsters caught?
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Images and Video ©Bill Curtsinger,
All Rights Reserved
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Preparing lobster bait
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To attract lobsters, Shaun McLennan fills bait bags with herring. Other oily fish have been used depending on abundance and price. In response to increasing pressures on bait fish such as herring, researchers are developing chemical attractants that may one day replace fish.
Every lobsterman uses distinctly-colored buoys to mark the location of their traps. In an effort to maintain order, all lobster boats are required to display a buoy with their colors. If you look closely, you'll see the Sea Ryder's yellow and red buoy on a forward pole.
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lobster buoy
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While buoys are often attached to single traps, as many as ten or more traps can be laid at a time. Buoys mark the ends of these trap lines. Local knowledge helps lobstermen set their traps and buoys in common directions so that trap lines do not cross. This knowledge and respect for other's gear is crucial for a successful lobster harvest.
lobster boat among buoys
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hauling in one end of a trap line
pulling in a buoy at the end of a trap line
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pulling in the rest of a trap line
Lobstering has changed significantly in the past century. Where lobster traps were once pulled up by hand in smaller boats, winches on bigger, faster boats now help haul many traps in a row. Radar, GPS (Global Positioning System), and other electronic equipment allow lobstermen to fish in fog and other conditions that once kept them in port. Combined with more sophisticated vessels, lobstermen have expanded their range and ability to efficiently harvest lobsters.
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lobster trap from below water
lobster trap at water level
lobster trap above water
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Traps have also changed over the years. Fixing wooden traps during the winter months was once a routine part of every lobsterman's job. Today, plastic-coated wire traps offer lighter, durable alternatives that last significantly longer and require less maintenance than wooden traps. Because they do not degrade quickly if lost, bio-degradable vents are built into wire traps, allowing lobsters to eventually escape.
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lobster trap on winch
pulling in a trap
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In Maine, lobstering areas are currently divided into zones of local control. Due to increased fishing pressure, lobsterman must now meet trap limits on the order of 600 to 800 traps depending on their fishing zone. Before the 1990's, as many as 2000 or more traps per boat were common, especially in the Casco Bay and southern areas.
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removing lobsters from a trap
Lobsters are processed immediately as traps are retrieved. In Maine, lobster carapaces must legally measure between three and a quarter and five inches from the eye socket to the end of the carapace - a lobster's largest shell segment. A typical lobster guage is shown below. Females carrying eggs (called "berried females") are carefully returned to the ocean after a V-notch is cut from their tail. These measures help quickly identify recaught females and insure that lobster larvae will continue to survive, providing a new batch of harvestable lobsters within seven years or so. Emptied traps are rebaited and thrown back in.
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lobster claw being banded closed
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processing lobsters at dock
lobster guage
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Thomas McLennan closes lobster claws with thick rubber bands. This is done solely to protect lobsters from each other. Unbanded lobsters in tight quarters tend to grapple and lose claws, leaving them commercially less valuable. Before rubber bands, lobstermen drove wooden pegs into the joints of lobster's claws. While effective, this occasionally caused infection resulting lobster death.
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lobsters in a crate
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When a lobsterman returns home, lobsters must be held alive until they can be brought to market. This is often done by keeping lobsters in a buoyed and locked crate offshore called a "lobster car" (lower left). Lobsters are retrieved when they are ready for market.
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lobster boat racing home
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This past century has seen dramatic changes in the lobstering industry. Modern lobsterboats highlight a growing emphasis on speed, range, and technology, bringing more and more lobsters to the table. As long as the fishery holds, increased lobster hauls are likely to continue for some time.
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